Schools should be forced to tackle cyberbullying, conference hears

State’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection calls for new legislation at EU forum

State’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Geoffrey Shannon. Mr Shannon has said legislation should be introduced compelling schools to have a strong disciplinary code on bullying and cyberbullying. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

State’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Geoffrey Shannon. Mr Shannon has said legislation should be introduced compelling schools to have a strong disciplinary code on bullying and cyberbullying. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Legislation should be introduced compelling schools to have a strong disciplinary code on bullying and cyberbullying, the State’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection has told an international conference.

Speaking on Wednesday at the EU Fundamental Rights Forum in Vienna, Austria, Geoffrey Shannon said EU law must keep pace with technology to protect vulnerable children from cyberbullying.

“The world was horrified by the hate that motivated the events in Orlando and the murder of British MP Jo Cox, ” he said.

“These terrible atrocities should motivate us to create an online culture of equality and acceptance to remove any undercurrent of bias, hostility and arrogance.”

He said the most effective means of preventing bullying may be to adopt a whole-school approach.

“This would encompass school policies in areas such as anti-bullying initiatives, codes of behaviour and the use of social media as an educational tool, as well as the involvement of parents,” he said.

“Legislation should be introduced compelling schools to have a strong disciplinary code.”

Citing the US experience, he said that in Massachusetts, governor Deval Patrick signed an anti-bullying bill into law in 2010 which meant that all school districts in the state were required to adopt and implement a bullying prevention and intervention plan in their schools.

Mr Shannon also said steps must be taken to ensure that victims of cyberbullying can identify their perpetrators.

“An ideal situation would be an agreement of co-operation between internet service providers and other entities, such as Facebook and the police, to provide IP addresses where complaints of cyberbullying have been received,” he said.

Forum theme

The forum, themed Rights, Respect, Reality: The Europe of Values in Today’s World, focuses on inclusion, refugee protection and the digital age.

There are 130 international speakers taking part in the three-day forum, which began on June 20th.

It is chaired by Michael O’Flaherty, former professor of human rights law at NUI Galway and the former head of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

He is now director of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, set up to provide expert advice on a range of issues to the institutions of the EU and to member states.

Addressing a working group on freedom of expression, hate speech and online anonymity at the forum, Mr Shannon said EU member states have been taken unawares by the manner and means through which children have fallen victim to cyberbullying.

“Whilst there are some legislative provisions in being that might be interpreted in such a manner as to tackle this growing problem, a focused response is required,” he said.

He said victims need to be able to feel they can come forward and express their concerns without fear of retribution and provision needs to be made for the protection of child victims.

“A clear system of legal recourse is required to provide for an offence of cyberbullying and to encourage victims to come forward, anonymously if needs be, without fear of retribution,” he said.

On Thursday, former Irish Ombudsman and current European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly will give a keynote address at the forum on fundamental rights.